Other Books

Flowers for Algernon

Keyes, Daniel - Finished Mar 17, 2017

Run-on Sentence Summary

Happily mentally disabled Charlie Gordon is given a medical procedure that elevates him to genius level intelligence, giving us insight into the human condition through his trying intellectual and emotional transformation.

Impressions

Flowers for Algernon is heartbreaking. Through his journal, we watch as Charlie Gordon grows from barely literate naivety into a tortured genius wracked with existential angst. You cannot help but get close to Charlie as he struggles to understand the world around him. I was surprised when I discovered afterwards that Flowers was written nearly 60 years ago because it feels timeless.

One central theme of the book is the dichotomy between intelligence and wisdom. His burgeoning knowledge and intellect outpace his emotional development, and despite his genius he is still in many ways a child. This contrast is the main source of conflict in the story and is the platform from which Keyes lectures about life.

Much of his philosophy rings true in my own life, but just as when I read it years ago, something about it gave me a nagging skepticism that is hard to articulate. The story is carefully put together, but since I disagree with what it is saying this made it feel contrived instead of polished. It is too confident in it’s own conclusions about the human mind, and I want to reject it.

For example, all the other characters in the book, especially the women, are one dimensional caricatures designed to confirm a Freudian view of relationships. Charlie’s pain is neatly attributed to repressed feelings about his crone of a mother. His two love interests, a perfect angel and free spirited whore stereotype, serve their purpose in the narrative but don’t feel at all like any real person I’ve met.

Genius Charlie becomes angry and dismissive of the people in his life, such as his doctor who is really just an arrogant fraud, but he never gets to the point where he understands any of them as actual people. Perhaps it is on purpose in order to help you understand Charlie’s juvenile perspective. As I said, it is well crafted.

Final Thoughts

I had trouble putting the book down. Regardless of your own conclusions, Flowers For Algernon will cause you to look at yourself and that makes it worthwhile.

Favorite Quote

“P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard.”